PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad -- The spotlight fell on the twin-island
nation of Trinidad and Tobago during the Caribbean Tourism
Organization's second annual Conference on Sustainable Tourism,
held here in April.
Delegates to the event, which used Trinidad and Tobago as a case
study, learned about the destination's tourism master plan and
major issues surrounding sustainable tourism development there.
Trinidad and Tobago has been slow to develop tourism, relying
heavily on the oil industry as the backbone of its economy,
according to Carla Noel, director of tourism and vice president of
the Tourism and Industrial Development Co. of Trinidad and Tobago
"Within the last four years, we have realized we can't ignore
tourism any longer," Noel said, pointing to predictions by the
World Tourism Organization of a surge in travel over the next
"We have a product, and we are going to exploit it," she
Tidco's tourism master plan is designed to protect the country
from overdevelopment, according to Noel.
The plan aims to reposition the destination from the traditional
sun, sea and sand image, and to cultivate niche markets.
"Our uniqueness as a tourist destination is secured with a range
of ecological and cultural diversities," said Carlos John, chairman
To that end, Trinidad is marketed as a destination for cultural
and sporting activities, soft-adventure offerings, cruise tourism
Tobago is being positioned as an upmarket destination with an
emphasis on scuba diving, weddings and honeymoons, golf and
"We're not going after mass tourism," Noel said.
"We are focused on niche markets and on attracting people who
respect the social, cultural and physical environments."
So far, the strategy has paid off, according to John.
In 1997, Trinidad and Tobago recorded a 19.5% increase in
visitors arrivals over 1996.
In the scuba segment, dive bookings increased from 2,000 in 1995
to more than 10,000 in 1997.
The master plan also addresses the need for controlled
development, Noel said, with a total of 5,000 rooms envisioned in
Trinidad and 3,000 rooms in Tobago.
The current room count is 1,750 for Tobago and 1,500 for
Noel said development on Tobago must pass rigorous environmental
impact assessments, and there will be limits to the size of
Among projects in the works is a 200-room, low-rise Hilton
resort on the southwestern coast of Tobago, expected to be finished
by the end of 1999.
According to John, Trinidad and Tobago is attracting strong
interest from other major players in the industry, including Four
Seasons, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton.
Other key factors in developing a sustainable tourism product
include community involvement, John said.
"We see the critical role that communities have to play in
identifying and developing their own tourism projects, thereby
creating that vital sustainable link between the industry and the
society at large," he said.
One way in which the government is accelerating growth in the
tourism industry is through the Community Tourism Action Program
CTAP is designed to mobilize communities to become involved in
tourism development, allowing them to determine and drive their own
tourism future, according to Karen Bart-Alexander, tourism
awareness specialist for Tidco.
Seven projects are in place: Brasso Seco/Paria Eco Community
Tourism Project; Fort Abercromby Historical Park; Maracas Bay
Tourism Plan; Grande Riviere Beach Enhancement; Toco Lighthouse
Park and Campsite; Belle Blanchisseuse, and Piparo Nature Park.
In addition to marketing and management, efforts range from
restoring existing facilities to constructing visitor information
centers and clearing nature trails.
While the program enables communities to benefit from tourism
development, it also enhances the visitor experience by giving
tourists a chance to explore the cultural, natural and historical
attributes of the areas, Bart-Alexander said.
"New tour products are being developed, and visitors to Trinidad
and Tobago can be exposed to a richer and more rewarding
experience," she said.
Another major topic at the conference was the need to develop in
an environmentally sensitive manner as well as implement management
policies centered around conservation and preservation of natural
In addition to hearing presentations spotlighting efforts of the
Environmental Management Authority of Trinidad and the Caribbean
Action for Sustainable Tourism program, delegates learned about
private developments such as Footprints Eco Resort on Tobago and
Paria Springs Nature Lodge on Trinidad.
From design to experience, the underlying philosophy of
Footprints, which opened last year, is the preservation and
protection of the environment and guest comfort.
For example, the property has maximized the use of local
building materials in its villa units and used renewable energy
Paria Springs Nature Lodge, slated to open next year as an
element of the Brasso Seco/Paria Eco Community Tourism Project,
follows a similar philosophy.
Preserving and harmonizing Trinidad and Tobago's cultural
heritage with tourism also played an important part in the
Two presentations gave delegates an in-depth look at Trinidad's
Carnival, and other speeches highlighted events such as the Tobago
Rounding out the conference was a variety of study tours to Asa
Wright Nature Centre and Lodge, Wild Fowl Trust and Caroni Bird
Sanctuary, Trinidad's steel pan yard and Tobago's Bucco Marsh and
Tours also visited areas slated for development, including the
Chaguaramas peninsula in Trinidad.